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Le ballon rouge

A charmer that makes any day a little brighter and happier
THE RED BALLOON (1956) Albert Lamorisse's classic short remains a buoyant delight. The simplest of tales about a boy, a balloon and the streets of Paris. It has been a staple of children's film festivals for over 6 decades. An Oscar winner for Best Screenplay (the only short to do so). It has been an inspiration for countless imitators and inspired such features as Iranian dissident Jafar Panahi's White Balloon and Hsiao-Hsien Hou's Flight Of The Red Balloon. It's a charmer that makes any Saturday a little brighter and happier. Maurice Leroux' score became a hit album and a children's book soon followed.

Trivia: Director Lamorisse later invented the board game Risk.

Bones and All

A sensitive cannibal love story
Luca Guadagnino's BONES AND ALL is a sympathetic cannibal love story. Based on a young adult novel by Camille DeAngelis, the screenplay by David Kajganich (who adapted Guadagnino's previous film A BIGGER SPLASH) strikes a realistic tone. It's a horror film, but, it doesn't trade on the fantastic.

Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timothy Chalamet) are two drifters who meet by chance (mostly). What they secretly share in common is that they are both cannibals from a young age. In this world, there is a whole secret underworld of such people - hiding in plain sight as it were. Along the way, an older member of their kind, Sully (Mark Rylance), dispenses advice on the ways of their tribe.

The film is set in the 1980s but Guadagnino never pushes that fact. It's all done in a very naturalistic manner. There are no gimmicky 80s callbacks, nor any spoofing of the attitudes of the era. The period song selection is strong including tracks from Joy Division, New Order and George Strait (there is an amusing scene where Kiss' 'Lick it Up' is rocked to). Arseni Khachaturan shoots on 35mm film which adds to the authenticity of the production. Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor's score is spare and appropriately moody. It truly feels as if it is of its period. The cannibalism theme plays out somewhat like a vampire film, and the genuineness of the production reminds one at times of Kathryn Bigelow's NEAR DARK. They are kindred spirits separated by a few decades.

The sober approach extends to how Guadagnino handles both the romantic and the horrific aspects of the story. The gore isn't shied away from, but, neither is it ever gratuitous. It's an effecting Y. A. love story with a very dark tinge. Chalamet is quite good as a loner who takes a matter of fact survivalist attitude to his hunger for flesh and blood. Russell is mostly equal to the task, but slips a bit during a couple of the more outwardly emotional moments. The supporting cast is solid which includes Andre Holland, Jessica Harper and Chloe Sevigny while Rylance is creepy as all get out.

BONES AND ALL may not quite fully convince that it's a story worth telling, but, the production, sensitive script and skilled direction make for a engrossing film.


Chazelle's big, loud and brassy tribute to old Hollywood
Taking it's title from Kenneth Anger's seminal muckraking book (Hollywood Babylon) Writer-Director Damien Chazelle's film certainly takes the legend of Tinseltown excess to heart in it's rousing opening sequence - A debauched bacchanalia party in which stars, starlets and wannabees dance, cavort and engage in just about every sexual variation with freaks, geeks and animals as entertainment. One of the gate-crashers is Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) who, in intentionally cliched fashion, gets "discovered" that night.

Morning breaks and LaRoy must stumble to a film set to get her big break. Also on location is another of the previous night's revelers, major film star Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), chauffeured by one of the lowly workers at that gathering, Manny Torres (Diego Calva). Whisked to the set, Nellie knocks the socks off the filmmakers - and, Voila! Instant starlet!

This first hour is energetically orchestrated by Chazelle showing all the gusto his talent, cast and millions of dollars can pull off. Unfortunately, once that initial surge winds down, so does his script's imagination. Set during the transition from the silents to talking pictures, Chazelle's movie ends up being a fairly simple and straightforward rise & fall narrative, using the coming of Sound as the main reason for Nellie and Jack's career and personal downfalls. Chazelle tries to weave in a couple of major supporting characters in Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) and Fay Zhu (a very sharp Li Jun Li), but never gives either enough screen time to flesh out their characters. Sidney is a black musician who becomes a featured player in 'race films', while Fay is an Asian starlet who writes inter-titles for silent films - although we only truly see her 'at work' for a couple of minutes. Instead, the focus is on her flamboyant bi-sexuality. Inadvertently, Chazelle turns the character into the same thing that Fay's real life model (Anna May Wong) was in Hollywood: The Exotic. It's symbolic of Chazelle's lack of a strong point of view to his screenplay, which he has said was researched over years and years. The spark seems to have all gone into the physical production - but not it's soul. The Art Direction, Costumes and Justin Hurwitz' score all energetic if not always period accurate.

Stylistically, Chazelle relies almost exclusively on excess with BOOGIE NIGHTS and WOLF OF WALL STREET being clear influences. The emphasis on bodily functions, out-sized gestures and proclamations of how important Hollywood is becomes wearying. There are a few sporadically interesting moments in the overlong last couple of hours, in particular a heart to heart between Jack and a gossip columnist, Elinor St. John (Jean Smart). It's a rare moment when the film slows down and has an actual discussion. Pitt is quite good when the script gives him a chance. Robbie is a ball of energy and carries the movie on her shoulders when it flags, but, her character is constantly short-changed and just ends up disappearing off-camera. Calva is, in some ways, the central role here, and he carries it off well, benefiting from an actual story arc.

The epilogue begins as a nice, if bittersweet, grace note. It takes place in a movie theater - of course (certainly seems to have been a common theme of several auteurs in 2022). Chazelle tries to link his film with those that inspired him, but as it continues on and on and on, he seems to be equating his own work here with not only a specific motion picture classic, but with the full continuum of cinema. Ambition or Vanity?

An Cailín Ciúin

Deceptively simple, yet profound
Writer-Director Colm Bairead's tender, deceptively simple adaptation of Claire Keegan's short story is a beautifully told tale. Set in the early 80s in Ireland, QUIET GIRL tells of a shy young girl, Cait (Catherine Clinch), who is sent away by her financially strapped parents for the summer while her family prepares for a baby to be born. Her Da (Michael Patric) calls Cait 'the wanderer' for her tendency to withdraw and to go off by herself. Cait stays with Ma's (Kat Nic Chonaonaigh) older cousin Eibhlin (Carrie Crowley) who lives with her husband Sean (Andrew Bennett).

Cait's natural introvertedness combined with the new surroundings makes for an uneasy transition. Over time, Eibhlin and Sean slowly break down that wall and they start to bond. Eibhlin and Sean are also firmly middle-class which further softens the awkward surroundings for the young girl who they endearingly call 'pet'. The surrogate parents assure Cait that there are no 'secrets' in their home. It's to the film's credit that when that promise is broken, it's done in a most gentle yet illuminating manner.

Bairead's spare but finely observed writing and direction is ably matched with the cast, in particular Crowley and Bennett who give sublty effective performances. Clinch perfectly suits the title role with an uncommon sense of stillness when necessary, while also being able to deliver in the more emotional ones. The movie is framed in the old fashioned 1:37 aspect ratio to suit the intimacy of the story, while still giving room to show the picturesque Irish landscape during the long drives to and from the two homes.

THE QUIET GIRL may, at times, feel a bit slight, but, be careful, it shall sneak up on you if allow it to unfold at its own lovely pace. It's a story that stealthily becomes so much more deeply felt that what's appears on the surface.

It Came from Hollywood

Entertaining intro into cult movies
The film's genesis came from the Golden Turkey Awards books by the Medved Brothers, but got morphed into a sorta Cult Movie version of the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! Series. It features clips from dozens of B movies separated into segments like: Aliens, Gorillas, Monsters, The Brain, Giants and Tiny People, Technical Triumphs, Troubled Teenagers, Prevues/Coming Attractions and A Salute to Edward D. Wood, Jr.. The chapters were hosted by Comedians Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Cheech and Chong and Gilda Radner.

IT moves pretty quickly and has some laughs along its 80 minute runtime. IT was where I first encounted the glories of THE GIANT CLAW on the big screen! Some of the dozens of movies excerpted include PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, ROBOT MONSTER, THE CRAWLING EYE, TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE, REPTILICUS, THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN and ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES.

Unfortunately, Directors Malcolm & Andrew Solt included clips from some very good movies including THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN and THE DAY THE EARTH STILL (and over the objections of the oriiginal Director and the Medveds). It definitely takes away from the experience, and some of the comedy intros seem quickly tossed together.

Unfortunately, IT CAME FROM HOLLYWOOD hasn't been available legally since the days of VHS and Laserdisc because of rights issues over the myriad of clips. A DVD was announced 20 years ago, but never issued. You can easily find it on YouTube and through grey-marked DVD dealers. It's worth seeking out.


Nighy's sublime and poignant performance sparks this touching drama
An aging man named Williams sits in a diner with a stranger playing hooky from work. The stranger tells him to "live a little." The elderly gentleman replies: "I don't know how".

Bill Nighy plays Williams, a government bureaucrat who's near the end of his line. He's known for his steadfast, no nonsense efficiency. It's the early 1950s in London, a time and a place where men like Williams were expected to dutifully put their noses to the grindstone and get their work done. Alex Sharp plays Peter, a new employee in Williams' Public Works department. He brings a bit of youth to a group full of grey older men. The one woman, Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood; charming but not overly sweet), is about to bolt for less stodgy employment.

It's a classic tale based on the Akira Kurosawa masterpiece IKIRU (itself inspired by Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Illyich) but LIVING isn't a direct remake. Nobel-Prize winning writer Kazuo Ishiguro has done an excellent job at fully rethinking the tale for early-50s England. Director Oliver Hermanus also gives his movie an honest transposition. The movie begins with a credit sequence that mimics that of a period fifties film with Cinematographer Jamie Ramsay giving it a faux digital Technicolor look. Setting it in that time period not only pays homage to Kurosawa (IKIRU was made in 1952), but also shows the post-WWII conflict from the opposite side of the globe. The adjustments are culturally apt with both films pivoting on the notion that the lead character finds a cause to believe in during his final days at the office. If there is any criticism of Ishiguro and Hermanus here it's that, occasionally, they may be too faithful to the source. A few more original touches would only have made this an even stronger work. A minor quibble for such a respectful and successful adaptation.

Bill Nighy is the master of the sotto voice tinged with wry humor. He's also older than many realize (he's 73) since his fame came so late in his life. Nighy has always displayed more depth than just being a dry wit, but here, he truly gives an extraordinarily heartfelt performance without -- sacrificing any of his sage humor. Hermanus gives Nighy and the cast full berth to breathe, without any artificial dramatics. The poignancy is fully earned and deeply felt.

Im Westen nichts Neues

Forceful. Poignant.
Two opposing soldiers are in an isolated section of a vast WWI battlefield. Their main weapons are out of reach. It's mano a mano. The German gains the advantage and uses his knife to attack the allied combatant. A rage fueled by two years of military service fills the German and he plunges the knife into his victim...over..and...over. Moments later, the rage quickly turns into remorse. His fury overtaken by guilt. They may be enemies in war, but, are truly comrades in spirit.

It's a key scene in Edward Berger's forceful version of Erich Maria Remarque's classic novel. The German soldier in question is Paul Baumer (Felix Kammerer). The screenplay adaptation follows Paul from a bright-eyed new recruit to a battle-weary soldier. Paul and a trio of his friends are almost giddy with excitement to join the military, but that joy is rapidly extinguished as soon as they see the realities of service. Fighting for the Fatherland isn't all victories and roses like the propaganda promises.

At one point, Paul and his fellow troops end up defending the German occupied countryside in France. There they indulge in wine, food and even a woman or two. It's a temporary solace which the viewer knows is just a respite from the horrors that will soon consume them. A deceptive idyll.

Paul's journey is contrasted with that of Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Bruhl), a high ranking German official who knows that his side has lost the war and wants to find an equitable peace treaty with the French. Knowing that the Allies have the upper hand, the French negotiators strike a hard bargain. Even with the difficulties of diplomacy (and dealing with an obstinate General of his own), Matthias is surrounded by opulence in contrast to the dire circumstances of the troops.

Berger's direction is steady, while allowing for emotions to peak. James Friend's cinematography has a haunting beauty to it. The Visual Effects are well integrated into the tableaux. Volker Bertelmann's score is a bit more problematic as it calls too much attention to itself at times. It's a rare misstep in an otherwise sterling production.

As impressive as the movie's scope is, Berger never loses focus on the human element - even those on a more collective level. When Remarque wrote his novel in 1929 and the famed Oscar winning film was made a year later, nobody could have fully predicted the events leading up to WWII. One of the script's most significant exchanges comes when Mattias pleads with his French counterparts that the Peace Treaty's terms should not be so one-sided that the vanquished Germans will come to "hate" the peace. And, then there's the sullen-eyed French boy who comes in frightening contact with Paul (a direct homage to the brilliant 1985 film, COME AND SEE). His steely stare evokes both fear and defiance. It becomes a shocking contrast with the poignant, peaceful last image we see of our hero Paul.

Erinnerungen an die Zukunft

Do you believe?
Every Sci-fi film fan and UFO follower of a certain age remembers Erich Von Daniken's theory that Alien Visitors came to the earth centuries ago and that the 'evidence' is out there in the form of old artifacts ancient civilizations left behind after they encountered extra-terrestrials. Peru's Nazca Lines, Easter Island's Heads, Stonehedge, various cave paintings and the great Pyramids themselves were proof that man had met space beings.

The 1968 book was a sensation eventually selling some 75 million copies, and this Documentary earned over $125M in today's box office dollars. The film was made in Germany and imported to the U. S. and distributed by the studio that was always a purveyor of quality entertainment, Sunn Classics in a new cut in 1973! Amazingly, the Doc wasn't only a big hit, but actually earned an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary (losing out to WOODSTOCK). There was even a soundtrack album!

CHARIOTS OF THE GODS was re-edited for TV on NBC as In Search Of Ancient Astronauts and narrated by Rod Serling followed by In Search of Ancient Mysteries also with the voice of Serling. The success fo the airings led to the Leonard Nimoy hosted In Search Of TV series. Von Daniken continues to expand on his theories and has produced several further books and Docs on the subject.

Do YOU believe??


Cheeky if mixed with a good Krieps performance
Writer-Director Marie Kreutzer's somewhat cheeky if undernourished costume drama features the ever fascinating Vicky Krieps as the Empress of Austria in the late 1870s. Kreutzer's take intentionally deviates from history to create it's portrait of a woman stuck in a loveless marriage with the Emperor (Florian Teichtmeister).

From the outset, this Empress flaunts her dislike of proper protocol and behavior, to the point of flipping off her guests at a state dinner party. She even offends her own son and daughter for her immaturity. The emperor allows her to take leave of the palace on journeys to Hungary, England, Luxembourg and Italy (the locations are grand, but the cinematography disappoints). The Empress isn't always flighty and takes a special interest in the sick and infirmed; Clearly this fascination is intended to be commenting on the Empress' own state.

Kreutzer's flippant approach can be distancing and would be even more so without Krieps who keeps the character from being unsympathtic. There is a wonderful 'love scene' which involves Krieps and a handsome man merely leaning into one another's eyes, fully clothed. It's in these moments when CORSAGE engages.

Kreutzer's film contains intentional anachronisms and modern songs on the soundtrack, somewhat reminiscent of Sofia Coppola's tale of another unhappy monarch, MARIE ANTOINETTE. The irreverence is occassionally effective and masks the sting of the sadness at the movie's heart. None of it would work without Krieps, but, it's only somewhat successful regardless.


A Lovely Reverie
What forms a memory? Is it big events - holidays,road trips, birthdays? Or, is it just the smallest moments in time? Charlotte Wells' affecting, somewhat experimental AFTERSUN weaves both events significant and ordinary into her autobiographical mosaic c set in the late 1990s.

Sophie (Frankie Corio) is eleven years old and goes on an overseas voyage with her father Calum (Paul Mescal), toting along a video camera to document the trip. Calum is divorced from Sophie's mum and its a way to spend time with his daughter. Nothing truly extraordinary happens, but Wells and her cinematographer Gregory Oke keep the viewer in close at all times, observing the tiny details - a smile, a leg movement, a blink of an eye. It's in those moments, often seen from Sophie's POV, that count here.

Corio and Mescal are excellent. The dialogue is mostly small talk, yet it speaks quite pointedly as spoken by the characters. Combined with the performances, one gets a sense not only of their relationship, but, of their lives together - even if the main body of the movie takes place over only a few days. The stylish camerawork (including the footage from the video camera) and editing are engrossing even with the fragmented technique. Wells seems to understand that the camera DOES lie. It can create it's own impressions. It can distort what is actually occurring. What makes Wells so canny is that she also comprehends that one's own memories can also be faulty.

Wells uses all of the tools to poignantly create moments in time that will echo for a lifetime for Sophie and Calum - but, also for Wells herself and AFTERSUN's viewers. It's a lovely reverie.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Nicholas Cage IS Nicholas Cage!
Of all the actors in Hollywood, there is no better choice than Nicolas Cage to take on the role of.... Nicolas Cage. Director and co-writer Tom Gormican (with Kevin Etten) has created a truly Meta movie. Cage is brave enough to essay a character which most would find too uncomfortably close to portray in a fictional drama.

The onscreen Nicolas Cage we find here is no longer the A list Oscar-winning star he once was. He's a novelty item who takes roles for the money. He's become a pain to his ex-wife (Sharon Horgan) and daughter (Lily Mo Sheen). He's even seen literally begging for a role in a parking lot from a young director. His agent (Neil Patrick Harris) bails him out of his financial bind by selling him out to a rich overseas olive grower with mob connections, Javi (Pedro Pascal).

Cage and Pascal have good onscreen chemistry, but, once the plot gets revealed (which includes Tiffany Haddish as a CIA agent) the script becomes pretty rote. There are a few amusing bits and homages to Cage's films (including giving him a twin 'Nicky' - shades of ADAPTATION), but the main plot is the kind of second rate TAKEN knockoff that even the real Nicolas Cage would probably turn down. And, if you can't guess the ending, you're not really trying.

Cage gives it his all. Despite the cult that surrounds the actor for giving over the top performances in straight to streaming B movies, Cage is still a very talented actor as PIG reminded audiences just last year. UNBEARABLE needed to be more clever to truly pull off the Meta concept, but, Cage and Pascal do make it quite 'bearable' at least.


Absolutely stunning opening and closing scenes
MELANCHOLIA is about a planet which threatens a too close for comfort flyby of the earth on the day after Justine's (Kirsten Dunst) wedding. Now, much like in ANOTHER EARTH, Trier isn't terribly interested in the science of this new planet as much as he is in its symbolic value to his main character. You see, the planet is called 'Melancholia'. And, Justine is a very Melancholy bride.

The film begins with an incredibly gorgeous cataclysmic montage. It's horrifying and beautiful at the same time. From there, the SF element is minimal for the next hour or so (the film runs 2 1/4 hrs), so patience is necessary. It pays off in the end, though Von Trier doesn't allow for any easy conclusions.

Another Earth

Low key thoughful sci-fi
ANOTHER EARTH is about the discovery of a second 'Earth' that gets closer and closer to us, and as it does, it proves to be something of a mirror image. But, here, Director Mike Cahill and star Brit Marling (who also co-wrote) turn their focus on an ordinary girl on Earth. Think of all those big apocalyptic SF movies like DAY AFTER TOMORROW, ARMAGEDDON or ON THE BEACH etc. They always have some side story or two about average folks caught up in the big disaster and they pass the time between the big Special effects sequences. ANOTHER EARTH is all about the 'pass the time' subplots! Heck, there are NO big Special effects sequences! There will be folks talking back to the movie and saying, "Hey, they just discovered a sister planet to Earth - the greatest discovery EVER - and we're watching a 5 minute scene of a girl washing the dishes!!! WTF!!?"

And, yet, this thoughtful low key film manages to succeed on its own level as a sort of SF chamber piece. It reminded me a bit of films like this past Marathon's excellent THE QUIET EARTH and the original Russian SOLARIS. Worth seeking out.

Thirteen Lives

Honorable docu-drama from Ron Howard
Ron Howard's docu-drama about the 2018 Thai Cave rescue of 12 soccer kids and their coach. It's a decently well-told and very well-produced movie. The tech specs are quite good with exceptional sound design.

Screenwriter William Nicholson (working with Don MacPherson) and Howard follow a pretty straightforward path. Colin Ferrell and Viggo Mortensen similarly are fairly low key even as the two major stars in the film. Good use of graphics to show where the rescuers are helps viewers keep their bearings. Still, the filmmakers do add a bit of 'Hollywood' melodrama at points and some of the suspense seems to be - if not artificial- at least prolonged.

There has already been another feature and several documentaries made on the incident, and Howard and his team add little beyond being the best made of productions. The quite exemplary 2021 doc THE RESCUE had the good sense to understand where the story peaked and moved expeditiously to its conclusion, whereas Howard milks it for almost another full hour. It's not an obscure tale - it was literally the biggest news in the world only a couple of years ago.

THIRTEEN LIVES is an honorable effort, if a bit superfluous.

Duck Soup

Hail Freedonia!
Leo McCarey's classic comedy starring the Marx Brothers remains one of funniest, most freewheeling comedies yet made. The film is only 68 minutes long, but it packed with some of the Marx Brothers' best gags and quips.

Sample: Rufus T. Firefly: "Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honor, which is probably more than she ever did."

The piece de resistance is, of course, the dueling Mirror dance between Groucho and Harpo. Perfection. Despite all this, DUCK SOUP was considered a critical and box office disappointment (not a "disaster" as some have made it out to be). I guess coming out during the Depression made it less amusing to some. But, time has allowed it to take its place in the pantheon of anarchic screen comedy.

Hail Freedonia!

Il buco

A magisterial experience
IL BUCO (The Hole) (2022) Michelangelo Frammartino's third film is another of his minimalist wonders. All are set in his beloved Calabria, and, like his previous QUATTRO VOLTE, is concerned more with terra firma and the animal world than the humans that populate it. Filmed as documentaries, but, with an almost invisible narrative structure. Frammartino's films are akin to: What if Fredrick Wiseman made nature docs. No narrator. Almost invisible editing. No real dialogue.

It is 1961 and Italy is erecting the then tallest building in the nation in the prosperous northern city of Milan. Meanwhile, in the poorer southern region of Calabria, a group of spelunkers is exploring what turns out to be one of the world's deepest natural holes.

Even when the explorers are on camera, they are almost always shown from a distance, with the land and the farm animals providing the frame of reference. The exception are the native sheep herders who go about their daily lives almost oblivious to the scientific expedition occurring on and below their very landscape. In Frammartino's framing, they are part of the natural surroundings.

The cinematography by Renato Berta is extraordinary, both from a purely aesthetic as well as a physical and logistical standpoint. His camera follows the speleologists all the way down into the depths of the cave, step by step. The viewer feels as if they are descending along with the squad. Above the surface, Berta's work is no less impressive, capturing the audience's eye without ever being showy: Whether it's a small group of villagers watching a TV documentary on the building's construction (the only 'dialogue' in the entire film), the daily lives of the farmers, the fine details of the evolving map of the cave, or the farm animals grazing in the afternoon. The camerawork is never obtrusive, nor calls attention to itself. The sound department equally adds to the immersion that Frammartino is so carefully constructing. There is no musical score, the world creating its own organic soundtrack. The effect is mesmerizing if you can give yourself over to its rhythms.

IL BUCO is an exceptional cinematic experience for adventuresome film-goers.

P. S. By coincidence, on the very same day I wrote this, Experimental filmmaker Michael Snow (Wavelength) passed away. It's interesting to compare how Frammartino's films echo Snow's in that the very act of viewing their films makes one a participant in the very meaning of the work. RIP.

White Noise

DeLillo and Baumbach aren't a good match
Adapting an acclaimed novel is always a tricky task, particularly one in which the author's voice (Don DeLillo) is central to its interpretation. Writer-Director Noah Baumbach has fostered a distinctive 'voice' all his own as an indie auteur (SQUID AND THE WHALE, MARRIAGE STORY). Contrast can be beneficial to a collaboration (although DeLillo did not participate here), but, it can also result in a mess, which, sadly is what WHITE NOISE amounts to.

The bare bones of DeLillo's novel is maintained with a college professor in Hitler studies, Jack (Adam Driver) and his current wife Babette (Greta Gerwig) bringing up a Brady Bunch-like family of kids from various marriages. A chemical explosion creates an 'Airborne Toxic Event' (DeLillo coined the term) which sends the family on the run. Meanwhile, Babette has become addicted to an experimental drug. The couple competes with each other to see who fears death more.

DeLillo's themes of consumerism, empty family discussions, pharmaceuticals and, yes, death, carry through here, filtered though Baumbach's dialogue ticks. The strengths of both writers never really gel, however. The picayune details of everyday life contrasted with an epic catastrophe is an interesting idea (made more so coming during a pandemic). At times, it seems as if Baumbach is intentionally parodying the conventions of a disaster film - to decent effect. The supermarket is a lazy motif which has been done before (including the novel). Set in 1984, the movie never convinces that it's of the period despite the welter of products and other signposts of the era. They just come as so much trivial clutter.

A bigger issue here is the casting of Driver. As skilled as he is, Driver has never shown the dexterity to create lighter, more likable characters. His Jack is insufferable from the beginning with little finesse. Gerwig gets the tone Baumbach seems to be reaching for, but is hamstrung with her acting counterpart (Gerwig is, of course, Baumbach's life partner). The movie would have been more involving from her character's POV. Don Cheadle is an eccentric curiosity as a Jack's teaching colleague obsessed with Elvis (what the professor would have made out of Baz Luhrman's bio-pic!). There are moments that work such as the sequence illustrating the film's title and the motel scene (which deviates from the book). At times, it feels like a Woody Allen (a filmmaker who has often been tagged as an influence on Baumbach and who's work has death as a common theme) film awkwardly married to a David Cronenberg one (DeLillo's writing also evokes the paranoia of Philip K. Dick). There's also a curious Brian DePalma homage thrown in for good? Measure. The sensibilities simply never match up.

It's commendable that Baumbach would make such an ambitious movie (budget estimates range from $80-100M and up) beyond his usual arthouse realm - even it's tonally imbalanced. WHITE NOISE has some striking, if scattered, moments.

Glass Onion

Some fun; mostly in the second half
I wasn't the biggest fan of the original, but, it was a decent enough comic mystery.

GLASS ONION starts off awkwardly with the large cast being introduced with some awfully forced 'witty banter'. Some of the actors are entertaining enough, but, it doesn't really kick into gear into the murders begin. The second half is fun, even if the 'mystery' isn't all that much of one.

It's mostly all one long over-the-top spectacle. The original, for all it's flaws, at least had the patina of having a modest amount of social commentary - and, a pinch of actually being 'real'. Rian Johnson's sequel is mostly empty jabs. It's nice to see Ed Norton get a decent role for once as Elon Musk....er...MYLES... The others are having fun. Daniel Craig still hasn't licked the accent - he sounds like a cross between Colonel Sanders and Foghorn Leghorn. I honestly thought he'd be revealed as a phony in the original.

Janelle Monae steals the show, but I never believed that this supposedly close knit group of friends wouldn't have seen through her character in 15 minutes flat.

It's ok. But, that's about as enthusiastic as I can get. At least it has a great end title song.

The Janes

Relevant and Illuminating
Tia Lessen & Emma Pildes' THE JANES is a straightforward yet relevant and well-made Documentary about a group of Chicago women who banded together to facilitate reproductive rights to women when abortion was still illegal in the late 60s and early 70s. They were, for the most part, ordinary women who, fueled by the equal rights movement, wanted to provide options to ALL females regardless of race, age or financial situation.

Because the operation was so clandestine, it's no surprise that there is little actual footage of The Janes from the time period. There are some photographs and later interviews, but, most of what see outside the present day talking heads is stock footage of the time period. Still, the interviews with some of the surviving Janes, who along with their chief 'Doctor', mainly still use pseudonyms, are smartly presented and illuminating.

Three Minutes: A Lengthening

A commendable examination on film, using film
Bianca Stigter's fascinating semi-experimental Documentary literally takes three minutes of 16mm home movie footage and examines it in extraordinary detail. Save for one very very brief shot, we see nothing else but that film during the course of the suitably brief 69 minutes.

Taken on a European vacation in 1938 by David Kurtz the precious (and, at the time, expensive) footage has quick bits in Paris and Geneva, but the prime focus here is the film he shot in Nasielsk Poland. It was predominantly Jewish, and as fate would have it, be largely wiped out by the Nazis the very next year. In a way, THREE MINUTES is like a tragic ghost story - the viewer haunted by the notion that most of the faces we see would be gone so soon thereafter. Remarkably, through research and interviews, Stigter and her team were not only able to name some of the people we see, but even track down a survivor.

THREE MINUTES is a laudable effort in film examination. No footage so brief has probably been so thoroughly gone over since the Zapruder film. Stigter has done a remarkable job of not only exploring the celluloid for its historical value, but, also giving an afterlife of sorts to the men, women and children of Nasielsk.

Santa Claus

Santa vs El Diablo
K. Gordon Murray's imported Christmas classic bedeviled kiddie matinees for years and years.

The Grinch? Phooey!! Rene Cardona's film pits the Devil himself against good old St. Nick. A demon (Pitch) tries to entrap Santa Claus and ruin Christmas for everybody! Will Lupita get her doll? Will Rico get his parents' attention? C'mon! It's Santa and the children of the world united!

SANTA CLAUS played theaters at the holidays for over a decade as well as in TV reruns for years more; But, it was an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1993 that brought it back to wider attention. Episode 521 is one of their better efforts, with the phrase "nightmare fuel" being attributed to a riff herein.

Bardo, falsa crónica de unas cuantas verdades

Inarritu's exploration of his life and art
In Zen terminology, "Bardo" describes the state of consciousness between life and death. Alejandro Inarritu's movie is all about transitional phases. Personal and professional. Birth and death -- and all stages in between. It's autobiographical, but the subtitle dares one not to take it too literally: False Chronicles Of A Handful Of Truths.

Inarritu's alter ego here is Silverio (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), a documentary filmmaker who mixes in his personal opinions and dramatized events in his films. More specifically, he's a Mexican national now living in Santa Monica with his wife Lucia (Griselda Siciliani) and two children. Silverio's on the verge of receiving a prestigious journalism award from an American organization. He is feted by his Mexican colleagues, but draws the ire of one of his former associates, Luis (Francisco Rubio) who belittles him as a sellout. It's certainly reminiscent of the attacks on Michael Keaton's Riggan in BIRDMAN by the theater critic - a theme which obviously irks Inarritu. The larger concern is one of identity. Is Silverio a Latin American filmmaker or a Hollywood one? And, what of his family? Are they Mexican? American? Or, do they have to accept being an hyphenate? Have they taken the easy way out by living in California rather than remain in their homeland?

Working with Cinematographer Darius Khondji and shooting on 65mm digital, Inarritu certainly isn't wont for ambition. Dreams, fantasies and flashbacks are all captured across a wide canvas. The lines between reality and fiction are not only slim, they are virtually non-existent. When the movie debuted in Cannes, it was over 20 minutes longer than the current cut, which is still a luxurious 159 minutes. Some of the set-pieces are extravagant but, extremely well executed (the party, the talk show), while others simply befuddle (the Cortez sequence).

It's unclear in the end whether BARDO amounts to an ego trip or a guilt trip -- or some perverse approximation of both, but, compared with all the other autobiographical films being made recently by high profile Directors (FABELMANS, BELFAST, ARMAGEDDON TIME, LICORICE PIZZA etc.), Inarritu at the very least asks some probing questions of himself and the art form, and that's reason enough to see it.

Blast of Silence

Offbeat existential Noir with an Xmas twist
Offbeat Christmas movies - how about a Noir Holiday film? Allen Baron's BLAST OF SILENCE is a fascinating if quite flawed outlier in the history of film noir. One could argue that it was one of the very last gasps of the classic noir period, while also making a case that it is an early example of what later became known as neo-noir. What isn't mentioned as often is that BLAST has some indirect but distinct connections with the French noir movement, particularly the films of Jean Pierre Melville (BOB LE FLAMBEUR, LE DOULOS) along with examples from Jean Luc Godard (BREATHLESS) and Francois Truffaut (SHOOT THE PIANIST). Indeed, the film that BLAST most closely resembles may be Melville's later LE SAMOURAI.

As to the film itself, BLAST is truly a one man show by Baron, who raised the $20,000, borrowed the equipment and played the lead himself (performing his own stunts to boot!). Baron's screenplay is minimal. Hitman Frank Bono goes through the basic paces of getting the murder contract, acquiring the weapon and tailing his target, Troiano (Peter Clune). Much of the picture is shot without synch sound as Frank wanders through New York City killing time until the hit is to take place. Along the way, he deals with a scuzzy gun dealer, Big Ralph (Larry Tucker), and runs into an old female friend, Lori (Molly McCarthy) who he kills time with.

The script is so limited that it required a full narration track in post-production to tie it all together. That narration is what has made the film a cult item over the years. Ghost written by blacklisted writer Waldo Salt (as Mel Davenport) and voiced by another blacklistee in Lionel Stander (uncredited), the narration track gives the film an existential layer that the main movie only hints at. It's a double-edged sword because it is so flowery, and Stander's voice is so gruff that it rarely matches up with what Director, writer and actor Baron is doing on screen - or, what Baron could possibly have achieved on his own. If Baron's initial idea of casting Peter Falk in the role had come to fruition, he may have been able to pull off both the acting and the narration. There are times it plays almost like a parody of film noir narrator cliches: " You're alone. But you don't mind that. You're a loner. That's the way it should be. You've always been alone. By now it's your trademark. You like it that way." Still, there is no question that Salt's writing elevates BLAST.

What also works is the silent location footage around NYC. Baron's figure walking alone in the streets gives the film a stark sense of time and place (somewhat reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's early low budget noir KILLER'S KISS). Setting the film around Christmas adds to the verisimilitude (the touch where even a rat cage has Christimas ornaments is a good one). One can really feel Frank's solitary existence in the big city, being alone during the holidays in a strange city with only his 'mission' keeping him going.

BLAST OF SILENCE is a curio, but one worth visiting for noir devotees and those interested in ultra-low budget period cinema.

La cité des enfants perdus

Cult sci-fi fantasy; A French cousin to Gilliam's Brazil
Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet's follow-up to the bizarro delight, DELICATESSEN is this even more visually arresting sci-fi fantasy extravaganza. In an elaborately detailed futuristic society, an evil scientist, Krank (Daniel Emilfork) is using children to harvest their dreams.

The plot here is secondary to the visuals but, for those willing to go along for the ride, the production design, costumes, props and Darius Khondji's cinematography fills the senses. Angelo Bandalamanti's soundtrack entices the ear with it's combination of mystery and melody. It's difficult to imagine the film without it. Bandalamenti would later score Jeunet's A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT (excellent composition as well). No wonder Terry Gilliam loved the film so much - it's like the French cousin to his BRAZIL!

CITY OF LOST CHILDREN also stars Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon (a Jeunet regular), Judith Vittet and features the voice of the late great Jean-Lous Trintignant.

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio

Thoughtful version of the timeless classic
There wasn't a hew and cry asking for yet another version of Carlo Collodi's classic tale, but Guillermo del Toro, Co-Director Mark Gustafson and their team have added quite enough to make it interesting. The screenplay (by Del Toro in collaboration with Patrick McHale and Matthew Robbins) is still set in Italy, but during WWII under the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. There are several other changes, some to accommodate the setting and time period, while others come from this being a passion project for Del Toro.

Del Toro has long been known to be fascinated by objects d'art and other baubles and bits (one could probably watch his remake of NIGHTMARE ALLEY twenty times and still discover new curiosities in the background each and every time). Working with the Jim Henson Company and artist Gris Grimly, the design for Pinocchio is well imagined. The character really seems to be made out of common wood (or as Geppetto calls it: "Good Italian pine!") rather than being overly anthropomorphized to look like a little boy. The other figures are also done with flair.

Planting the story during wartime in the 1940s doesn't always work, and it tends to pad out some sections of the movie. The voice work by David Bradley as Geppetto and Ewan McGregor as the Cricket are fine, but, occasionally, Gregory Mann's Pinocchio is anachronistic, too much resembling a modern boy. The vocal cast also includes Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Ron Perlman and John Turturro (it's convenient to have a good address book). It's not a true musical, but there are some okay tunes written by del Toro and lyricist Roeben Katz; Alexander Desplat provides the music including the background score.

Give del Toro credit - he hasn't 'Disney-fied' his Pinocchio. It deals with mortality and what it means to be truly alive. It doesn't speak down to the youngest children. The bookends are truly impactful. As with all del Toro films, PINOCCHIO is visually appealing. The combinations adds up to a very satisfying production.

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